I stood in the shower at my mate’s home in North London on Monday morning and something was still gnawing at my insides.
I just couldn’t work out why I was so bothered by what had happened the day before. “Is it jealousy making me angry?” I asked myself. Perhaps it was. Nobody had ever held me aloft as I’ve gone to leave the pitch before. The only escort I’d ever received was from the three referees who marched me down the tunnel after showing me a red card.
I came to watch the game, not a Disneyland procession of waving.
As I watched Didier Drogba’s team-mates rush and chairlift him to the dug-out, I could feel the bile rise.
On one hand I think, “Here’s a giant in world football, a man more decorated than my grandmother’s mantelpiece, why shouldn’t he be lauded like a heroic soldier returning from war?”.
The brakes on my train of thought were then slammed on as it occurred to me that he’s already gone through all this rigmarole once before, hasn’t he? Sorry may be the hardest word to say but goodbye keeps spewing involuntarily out of Didier’s mouth like it’s a form of Tourette’s.
I might be coming across as a hardened old cynic here but last game or not, I can’t help feel that it’s just not football. I came to watch the game, not a Disneyland procession of waving.
It became all a bit eggy, too staged, too deliberate, too “Me! Me!, Me!” for my liking. Rarely touching the ball, Drogba’s (possibly?) final farewell reduced him to a waxwork model of his former self, standing on the pitch for half an hour merely waiting for the fourth official to beckon him off. Surely the best send off would be with a flourish and, oh, I don’t know, goal or something?
It banished Sunderland’s superiority and one goal advantage in that opening third of the game into irrelevance. As soon as he left the field, gears were shifted and the balance was restored to the universe.
Do we really need this “thing” the modern game has spawned? I say “thing” because it’s become a “thing”, a “thing” we never used to do.
This is what testimonials are for. Last appearances should be met with a standing ovation, a tearful wave to the crowd, and a sharp exit stage left. Thanks for the memories, we’ll hang your picture on the wall, see you in the executive lounges in two years’ time.
These days, goodbyes are sometimes repetitive, long, drawn out affairs that actually do the reverse and make me want to hasten their departures so we can just get on with the playing the game.
During the first half of that Chelsea game, Eden Hazard cut inside on to his right foot and played a sublime 40-yard pass directly into the path of the marauding Branislav Ivanovic who was eventually bundled over as he bore down on Vito Mannone’s goal.
It was a pass that, if I had actually paid money to get in to the game, would have been worth every penny. In fact, the pass was such a work of brilliance I almost ran on to the pitch to tuck a £20 note into his shorts as a tip. THAT’S what I came to see.
In the swirl of what the occasion was really about – the crowning of England’s champions – Didier’s dogma was that today was to be about him, not the spectacle around him.
Some may say Chelsea fans were giving a deserved send off to the man voted Chelsea’s greatest player back in 2012, but I still think there’s an argument there nonetheless.
Spare a thought for undeniably Chelsea’s finest ever goalkeeper Petr Cech, a man who is also likely to be leaving the club, perhaps in a more humble manner, this summer. The way he hung back from the rest of his Drogba-bearing crowd of team-mates tells me he won’t rue the loss of any fanfare.
No game at this level should be deemed meaningless. No matter the circumstance surrounding it, we can always learn and gain from 90 minutes of football and not just use it as as a red carpet in reverse.
Sunday’s game was more entertaining than I’d anticipated but I still felt somewhat sold short.
Clubs are already preparing for next season and given that Jordan Pickford could conceivably be moved up to No 2 , I was desperately hoping he would play, as much for his development as for my own interest. This was the one game where even the gain of a young goalkeeper’s experience would outweigh the gamble of a heavy defeat, removing the immateriality of the game.
I can see why Dick Advocaat would reward him for his season long patience, but if Vito leaves anyway, it really is an opportunity wasted. And for what? An insignificant farewell?
The long goodbye is quickly rivalling muted celebration in the race to become my biggest irritant in football. Steven Gerrard’s own soap drama of an exit lasted so long it was like a plot from Eastenders.
Which is a funny really, because that usually ends with somebody getting murdered as well.